Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 New Year's Eve in Anahuac, TX

Texas' roads exemplify the saying, "It's the journey, not the destination".  Especially when you are traveling along twisty, two lane country roads in the middle of no where East Texas.  So I can't understand why my husband won't slow down and let me take more pictures!  In Livingston, we flew right by the giant snowman made out of 6 round bales of hay, marking the entrance of a local bar, Buster McNutty's!  And being the car buff that he is, you would have thought he would have succumbed to my begging as we passed a car dealership displaying a two cabbed pick up truck, each cab facing a different direction.  But no, we drove on.  We detoured in Liberty off of Hwy 356, onto TX-90 and drove East 6 miles to the town of Ames, Tx.  Finally my camera had it's chance. We took a family photo (sans me as the photographer) in front of the city limit sign, boasting it's 1067 residents.  We drove around to also photograph the water tower, displaying the Ames name.  A search for a city hall or other official building proved futile, so     we left and rejoined the highway, heading south.

Cheers erupted from our suburban when we reached our destination of Anahuac, which Leo, my three year old, pronounces as "banana-whack".  As the cheering died down, the familar chant for food began from the back seat.  I was determined to have a fresh seafood lunch, so with a little trepidation we drove past the Dairy Queen.  Anahuac, according to the website, ePodunk, has a population of 2,173 and we feared little in the way of restaurants. A quick tour of the town brought us to Gator Town Seafood, a small seafood market.  Anahuac proudly declares itself to be the "Gator Capital of Texas", even hosting the annual "Gatorfest" the second weekend of September.  With fingers crossed, I ran inside the small market to ask for a recommendation for lunch.  Sitting beside a very small meat counter, and under a very long dry erase board, in which the daily fresh catches were written, were two older men in lawn chairs.  They each had an open beer and they seemed happy to have a disruption, even if I wasn't there to buy "gar".  I was told that for really good, fresh seafood we had to leave Anahuac (hadn't we just got there) and drive nine miles down to Oak Island to a place called Channel Marker 17.  One of the guys started explaining the shrimp and butter baked in little muffin tins, and suddenly we were leaving "Banana-Whack", and on our way to Oak Island.

The drive down was full of not to be missed photo opportunitiies, which John made me miss all of them.  We did however stop to take a picture of some of the leftover damage from Hurricane Ike.  I also got a picture of one of the many old mobile homes that had been set up in the air on piers, as a "safety" precaution.  I am pretty sure that the place I don't want to be during a hurricane is in a mobile home on stilts!   Oak Island sits on Trinity Bay, just south of where the Trinity river ceases to be a river and merges with the Gulf of Mexico to the south.  It's a small fishing community with a grocery store.  Lazy dogs are laying in the road, taking their time to scratch their fleas.  Time is definitely slower here.  We drive around looking and pull into the empty Oak Island Lodge.  Our directions had included the advise, "ask anyone, everyone knows where it is".  We did and were immediately directed three doors down to another beach house in a row of beach houses.  Channel Marker 17 was written on the side of the three story building.  Still with those shrimp in mind, we hurried inside.  It was a dimly lit place with a giant tv screen, football game in progress.  You have to pass the patron-less bar to get to the tables.  John says that there is a picture on the wall of the house immediately after Ike, with water up to the second floor.  I am wondering if they took the picture from a boat when they brought Leo a high-chair, not knowing, of course, that Leo hates high chairs and LOVES to scream!  Evangleine, the boss and wife of the owner, so one of the 25 handmade signs proclaim, comes running out and tells him she has something just for him! She then produces a folding, child size table that she sets next to our table! He is so happy as he and Danielle take their places!  We are brought menus and drinks, and begin ordering happily the fried platters filled with shrimp, fresh fish, stuffed crab and frog legs.  I order the shrimp in the muffin tins.  We are enjoying the view of the bay, the fishing and shrimping boats, the table set up outside where they shuck the oysters.  Our waittress, and daughter of Evangeleine, Amber, tell us that they are closing the grill early for New Year's Eve, and that they have a pork butt on the smoker in the back.  This is a place that wouldn't even make a dive on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives", and we are in heaven as we wait on our shrimp and stare out at the pelicans flying over the water!  I think it's about this time that we are made aware of their policy of cash only.
I never have cash, and John usually has a little, but all he has on him today is $29.00.  I immediately have visions of them yanking my shrimp from the oven, when Amber tells us not to worry and Happy New Years.  Evangeleine likes Leo's chicken dance so much that she makes him some chicken nuggets that we didn't even order!  Our food arrives and it's terrific!  I love the stuffed crab, full of shrimp!  The shrimp in the muffin tins are wonderful, covered with cheese and garlic and butter then baked.  Normally, I wouldn't be a fan of cheese and shrmp, but these are fantastic!  Cole and Leo share the frog legs, a first for both of them.  Cole is surprised at how sweet they are, and Leo begins jumping around of the floor, ribbitting, when we tell him that they are from a frog! We hand over our $29.00, knowing that we are still indebted to them quite a bit.  Later, John and I will debate whether we should mail them the money, or simply a letter of appreciation.  We walk around outside on the deck.  It's warm for December, about 75 degrees, but so cloudy that we haven't seen the sun all day.  Bob, Evangeliene's husband, is tending to the smoker.  He tells us about the bay, and the wildlife preserve which we are now headed.  We leave promising to come back again soon.

Headed back to Anahuac, bellies full, we are ready for adventure, if not a nap!  John is much more patient, allowing me to photograph a few sites in town; the Thomas Jefferson Chambers home, namesake of Chambers County where Anahuac is the county seat.  We drive past but regrettfully don't stop at Fort Anahuac Park, where a fort was erected in 1830 and known as the "birthplace of the Texas Revolution".   My GPS leads me to the office of the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, located in the middle of town.  It's closed, and doesn't not give any further directions to get to the refuge.  We drive back to Gator Town Seafood, the only place in town that is open, hopefully for further directions.  Inside I find the same two chairs, only one is empty and the other occupied by a different older man, also with a beer in hand.  The other man is assisting a couple who are buying shrimp for a New Year's Eve shrimp boil.  They are all locals and doing more chatting than anything else.  They are happy to let me interrupt and suddenly four people are all giving me directions.  I repeat them twice, and with heapings of "Thank You:" and "Happy New Year",  back out the door, and we are off!

It's about 12 miles from town to the refuge, past coastal prairie, salt grass and occassional pine trees.  Really a beautiful drive.  The air smells of salt.  We pass several huge, and I mean huge, piles of logs and debris.  Leftovers of Hurricane Ike.  We arrive at the refuge entrance and sign in.  It's free, unless you are hunting.  The kids think it's strange that you are allowed to hunt at a wildlife refuge, but we explain the gray of life.  That most things are not neccessarily "good" or "bad".  The money paid to hunt here, and few hunters are allowed, as well as the money from hunting license and stamps, are what provides the operating cost for the refuge's 34,000 acres. At the refuge, there are several hiking trails and boardwalks, but alot can be seen from your car.  We choose to first drive down Frozen Point Road.  We have just crossed Onion Bayou when we see an enormous hawk sitting on a tree about 50 feet from the road.  We are in awe of it's beauty and size, standing on the side of the road and trying to get a good picture, when he flies away.  A white toyota pulls up along side us, and a man stops and says to us in a thick Austrailian accent, "You aren't from around here, are you?".  HUH???  We laugh and he tells us we were in the presence of a red tailed hawk, and that they are on every tree and telephone pole out here.  Well, sure, we know red tailed hawks, we see them everywhere.  But this guy was amazing!  He tells us about other birds to look for, but we are the proverbial kid in a candy store and over-whelmed by all he is telling us.  Then I ask, "What about alligators?".  Obviously this guy is a "birder" and not concerned in the least about our tiny little alligators, as compared to his Austrailian salt water crocodiles.  He tells us that Ike brought in so much salt water, it killed off 9 out of every 10 alligators there, as well as decimating the population of so many other animals.  But he suggest that we look around Shoveler Pond.   We thank him and continue on, passing Teal Slough, filled with little Teal ducks.  These guys barely notice us, as they quack and bob about in the shallow water.  White egrets cover the shorelines, obviously not bothered by us either.  We continue down to Frozen Point, trying to identify the numerous Red Tailed Hawks from the less numerous with white tails, which I learn later to be...drum roll please.... White Tailed Hawks.  The road comes out onto East Bay and we see fisherman out wading.  We stop and watch them for a minute.  East Bay is not a beach, there are no waves.  It is the body of water that lies between Bolivar Penninsula and the mainland. We brought our fishing poles, but there is still so much we want to explore that it just doesn't feel right to stop yet.

We continue driving when I spot them in the marsh about 300 yards away.  Snow Geese! There are about 4 little groups, just sitting about in the water.  We share binoculars.  It's not as close as I would have liked, but it's what I came to see.  As a child, I was my dad's tom girl, always ready to accompany him anywhere.  We would come out here to hunt several times a season.  As he aged, he grew less fond of hunting, learning to appreciate live animals much more than dead ones. He supported several wild animal organizations, although he still loved the Labrador Retrievers he had hunt with in his younger days.  He passed away last February, leaving me with the care of those dogs.  So during my first Christmas without him, I was feeling very sentimental for all the things that I thought he would be around forever to share with myself and my children.  As a child, each year we would have a freshly killed snow goose for Christmas dinner.  I would remember him cleaning the goose, and white feathers being everywhere.  He would always take me with him for the Christmas hunt a day or two before the holiday.  I loved leaving the house in the early morning hours, the air full of excitement.  His old dog, Sis, wouldn't even sit for the entire drive from our home in Pasadena to Anahuac.  We would sit huddled together under camoflaged blankets, the dog's muscles tense and eyes constantly to the sky.  It was so cold but it never bothered me.  I loved seeing the birds fly over head.  I always felt for the animals, and never cared to hunt myself, but I relished being out there with my dad on the rice fields.   I just wanted that to be something in some way I shared with my children, so that they could learn to appreciate the wild animals.  We sat there watching them for awhile, and I for the thousandth time in ten months wished he were there with us.

We turned around and drove back down to Shoveler Pond.  It's a big marshy pond and the road encircles the entire thing.  It was getting late, almost dusk.  Perfect time to see alligators.  We were about half way around when John slammed on the brakes.  Three alligators were sitting along the bank, no more than 20' from our car.  Two immediately lunged into the water, and a smaller one stayed still in the grass.  I don't know why, because Leo immediately started yelling "al-e-gator" as soon as he saw him!  John got out of the car, and slowly made his way through the tall grass, taking a few pictures.  It was so dark now that we could barely make him out.  With all our eyes on the small alligator, and John looking through the camera, we never saw the attack.  Suddenly we were ambushed by hundreds of blood thirsty mosquitos!  We had been driving all day with the windows down and not seen one, but now we were under attack! He hurried back to the car, we rolled up the windows and began squishing all that were in the car! Can't you imagine what that the alligator was thinking, watching us in the car, all slapping at the air and screaming! I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't roll over on his back laughing when we drove away!

Thomas Jefferson Chambers House

Gator Town Seafood

Does it look safe to you?

Channel Marker 17

Leo's table!

Fort Anahuac Park